For Love the Bell Tolls is a gothic romance anthology from Stars and Stones Publishing.
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My story in For Love is “Blood and Petals”
It’s summertime in the ‘50s and Paul’s got everything a boy could ask for. Great car, easy job, and no problems. Except for the beautiful ghost haunting the boarding house where he works. And the weird memories of his past where he’s a girl. And maybe the lingering fear that something is very wrong…
Selection from “Blood and Petals”
My most important memory is August 20, 1947. That day, my new clothes arrived.
I’d worked all summer at the White Cow making fifty cents an hour, and I saved nearly three hundred dollars. At five feet ten inches, the doctor insisted I couldn’t possibly get any taller, so I invested the entirety of my savings in orders from a catalog specially designed for tall women. Levi jeans and tailored women’s trousers. Long sleeved blouses with proper buttons on the cuffs. Short sleeve shirts with starched collars and polka dot prints. Even three bullet bras.
If any of my four brothers got to those boxes first, I’d be teased mercilessly, so all the packages went to Annie’s house. Shy, studious, polite Annie. My next-door neighbor…or the closest thing to next-door in farm country. Annie had finished growing at a respectable five foot two inches, and couldn’t have fit the bobbysoxer image more if she tried. Her uncle took her to the city to get her soft blond hair shampooed ever week and always bought her something new.
I tied my hair into its last ponytail and crunched through my hair with less gentleness that I used to sheer the sheep. Once I’d committed the crime, Annie swung in to reduce the damage. She combed and snipped, sighing as the inches fell off in thick black snakes. When I lifted my head, it was short as Mary Astor’s and twice as curly.
I could hardly breathe when I wore my new clothes. Because they fit me. The trousers tapered at my ankle and synced on my waist. No more shapeless sweaters or skirts that sagged on my waist or stopped too soon. I’d transformed. Sheep-farmer to… shit, I was stunning. A regular Katherine Hepburn.
“I look swell. Don’t I?” I sauntered around before her. Annie stared at the floor and said nothing. My world hung on the thread of her judgment. I never knew how desperate I was for her approval, for her eyes, until she denied me. “I mean, don’t I?”
“Oh yes!” Annie stammered, cheeks full of color. She could hardly look at me as if the sight of me was dizzying. “Real swell, Paulie. Like a… like in the movies. You look good, it’s only…”
She fetched a silk scarf out of her enormous closet. She stood on tip-toes to get it around my neck since I was about a head taller. Her skin smelled like perfumed French soap.
“There now.” Annie left the scarf tied loosely. “Now, you look like a girl.”
It crushed me.
I mean I wanted to look good. Every little girl wants to grow up and be beautiful. But as much as I wanted to be desired… somewhere deep down, I didn’t want to look like a girl.
Now, more than ever, I have to remember that. I was fourteen. I was in love with Helen Anabelle Fairbridge. And I was a girl.